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Methane Release from Igneous Intrusion of Coal during Late Permian Extinction Events

Department of Geological Sciences, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403‐1272, U.S.A.
(e‐mail: [email protected])

Unusually large and locally variable carbon isotope excursions coincident with mass extinctions at the end of the Permian Period (253 Ma) and Guadalupian Epoch (260 Ma) can be attributed to methane outbursts to the atmosphere. Methane has isotopic values (δ13C) low enough to reduce to feasible amounts the carbon required for isotopic mass balance. The duration of the carbon isotopic excursions and inferred methane releases are here constrained to <10,000 yr by counting annual varves in lake deposits and by estimating peat accumulation rates. On paleogeographic maps, the most marked carbon isotope excursions form linear arrays back to plausible methane sources: end‐Permian Siberian Traps and Longwood‐Bluff intrusions of New Zealand and end‐Guadalupian Emeishan Traps of China. Intrusion of coal seams by feeder dikes to flood basalts could create successive thermogenic methane outbursts of the observed timing and magnitude, but these are unreasonably short times for replenishment of marine or permafrost sources of methane. Methane released by fracturing and heating of coal during intrusion of large igneous provinces may have been a planetary hazard comparable with bolide impact.